WHAT IS IT?

A reconsideration of the online presence and ecommerce website for Black Plum Accessories.

Black Plum sells silk scarves and other merchandise that feature designs and motifs found on heavy machinery. The visual form of function.
PROBLEM

Boutique buyers and individual consumers were finding it difficult to contextualize the products and find the right place for them in their stores and in their lives.

Response to the designs were positive and enthusiastic. But people felt like this was a really nice thing that they didn't know what to do with. There wasn't an immediate connection with the overall concept of the heavy machinery motifs. And no existing narratives emerged to accomodate the product.
RESEARCH

Interviews with boutique owners/buyers and consumers.

I visited numerous boutiques in Manhattan and Brooklyn that carry scarves and other products with a design emphasis and engaged with owners and buyers with questions about how Black Plum products might fit into their existing stock and appeal to their customers. I set up a booth at flea markets and engaged with consumers to learn what they thought of the products and how they would use them.
COMPETITIVE RESEARCH

How are successful businesses solving similar problems?

While I have investigated numerous businesses that are similar enough to offer insight, and continue to do so, I will focus here on three businesses that illustrate key discovories.

Link
Link Collecive sells Furoshiki which are large cotton scarves that carry colorful designs created by a few illustrators and surface designers. It's a product that isn't immediately recognizable to much of the world. But Link has done a good job of explaining the process of how the scarves are made, both the design, which includes some focus on the designers, and the manufacturing which emphasises Japanese tradition and craftsmanship. Link also does a good job of demonstrating how the products can be used as bags, parcels, wraps for gifts or as decorative wall hangings in addition to the usual suggestions about how these might be worn illustrated in photographs. The website divides into sections for Furoshiki, Bags, Carry Straps, Gifts, and Display Pole, even though it is essentially the same product offered. This expands context and encourages multiple points of entry.
Link Collective

Blue Bottle Coffee
Blue Bottle Coffee is offering a very familiar product that they would like for you to consider in an entirely new way. The website emphasises learning about how coffee is grown and manufactured and then prepared at home. A major section of the website, Learn, is given as much weight as Shop. And almost every journey through the site encourages you to gain new knowledge and reconsider what you think you know. They are able to achieve a nice balance between what is familiar and what is new and exciting by placing these together in an integrated format. The option to explore is always available, but is grounded in the ability to find a tangible product efficiently and purchase it easily.
Blue Bottle Coffee

MoMA Design Store
The store not only makes use of the name recognition and the obvious relationship to the museum, it expands upon that relationship by emphasising curation and an ongoing connection to design classics. Stories about how the products are chosen for the store and how they are chosen for the museum are both prominintly featured on the website. Offering design classics suggests curatiorial expertise and provides grounding for riskier and newer products made by lesser and unknown designers. While a new store can't boast of a relationship to an established institution, lessons on placing the product in a broader cultural context can be employed.
MoMA Design Store

SOLUTION

Provide context and opportunities for exploration.

Define product's position as a node in a socio-cultural network. Give opportunities for discovery that support the user and the product via contextual and non-disruptive information.

Ensure support and reassurance at all steps of the user journey.

Keep the story grounded by keeping it connected to the details of the products. Novel information should also be useful and relevant information.
FIRST STEPS

Sketches/Mis-steps

The initial direction focused on a traditional flow where the user is funneled from an offering of a wide variety of products to the purchase of a single item. In initial sketches I concentrated on streamlining that process to avoid interruptions and build confidence through clear strong steps. But I struggled to find a natural place for the additional information about the products that I was thinking of as supplemental. Through the process of sketching possible scenarios I began to shift my perspective and to conceive of the extra product information, information about care and use and materials, as more than just nice to have. Because the product range is so focused, really one main item, and because it is unknown and carries so few expectations and associations, there was an opportunity to do more.

USER FLOW

Explore

Opportunities to dive into the details of how the products are imagined and constructed allow the user to make discovories and connections, putting the products in a historical and cultural context. Throughout the process of exploration, specific Black Plum products are present or highlighted. And purchase is always a quick and simple option.

Product knowledge and anecdotes help provide a sense of the boutique experience.

USER FLOW

Purchasing a product

Guidance, support, and reassurance all play a significant role as soon as a product is selected and a user begins to consider a purchase. Popups provide quick doses of detailed and relevant information while further developing context. A strong sense of continuity and aid is reinforced in the purchase confirmation email (and subsequent emails) by supplying abbreviated care and use guidelines and a direct link to the returns policy.

Site Map

The Exploration portion of the site is a significant pillar of the overall construction.
WIREFRAMES

Explore — diving into the content

Users are encouraged to learn more via three main branches: Our Process, Use/Care, and Put it On.

Our Process
tells the story of how the product came to life, both in a physical sense — the craftsmanship and materials and the history that go into the products — and in a conceptual sense — what ideas and discussions are behind the designs that appear on the scarves. The wireframes below illustrate one line of inquiry into process and some of the available areas of discovery.

Use/Care
provides washing suggestions, notes on durability, and ideas for alternative ways a silk scarf can be put to work. Other uses include: tying the ends of the scarf to create an improptu bag; using it to divide items in a large suitcase; wrapping a small picnic; laying it out as a small table cloth.

Put it On
features inspiring ways to wrap, tie, and drape the scarves as well as hightlighting who has worn the scarves from the distant to the recent past in all parts of the world.

WIREFRAMES

Purchase support Popups

Continuing through the purchase flow, positive and relevant material is readily available that goes well beyond the details of the product and helps to place it in a greater context and give it a fuller richness. While an online shop can't command the same physical presence of an in-store staff person, the enhanced opportunities for for discovery and understanding that an online experience provides can be very powerful.

Now/Next


Priorities

Continued research and testing on added content.

Would love to know what users find most relevant in order to prioritize and add depth to that content.

Next Steps

What ethical concerns regarding the production of materials/labor need to be addressed?